News Column

EDITORIAL: Oklahoma Capitol repair project will take time, money

July 19, 2014

The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

July 19--GROUND was broken for the Oklahoma Capitol on July 20, 1914. Now, 100 years later, officials are preparing to start major repair work on that same structure. The project will be the biggest construction effort at NE 23 and Lincoln since the Capitol was built.

This year lawmakers approved a $120 million bond to fund repairs. The exterior of the building is crumbling. So is the interior, including everything from walls to plumbing to electrical wiring. No one doubts the need to address those major structural issues.

But Oklahomans should understand that this fix will take years and that the $120 million price tag is likely just a starting point. When Minnesota undertook a similar Capitol restoration project, it required $272.7 million. In Kansas, basement-to-dome renovation cost nearly $325 million and required 13 years of effort.

Similar expenses and timeframes are more likely than not in Oklahoma as well. The renovation will occur while occupants remain in the building, significantly slowing progress and contributing to higher overall expenses. And once renovations begin, other infrastructure problems will undoubtedly be uncovered.

It's better to do this job right than to do it quickly. Despite the challenges, this is an exciting time. The Capitol renovation project is of far greater significance than the addition of a dome that preceded the state's centennial in 2007. This is definitely an instance where "fast and cheap" shouldn't be confused with competence and quality.

Accounting "shortfall"

At the end of the fiscal year on June 30, tax collections going to the state's General Revenue Fund increased by only 0.03 percent compared with the prior year. The total came in at 4.8 percent below estimates. Yet gross collections to the state treasury actually increased $469.3 million year-over-year. How did state officials turn a $469 million increase into flat growth? By diverting more and more money away from the General Revenue Fund, which is the main funding source for the appropriations budget drafted by lawmakers. The amount earmarked for specific uses outside the budget process increased by $102 million. Thanks to earmarks, lawmakers faced a $188 million "shortfall" in a time of record tax collections. The shortfall existed only on paper. It was the product of legislative machinations, not an economic downturn. June's final revenue numbers are another reminder of the vital need to amend state budgeting methods.

On thin ice

The trial bar is often quick to say there's no such thing as a frivolous lawsuit. Tell that to 1994 Olympic gold medalist figure skater Oksana Baiul, whose lawsuit against NBC was thrown out this week by a federal judge in New York. Baiul filed a $45 million libel and defamation lawsuit against the network and a skating company. She said they had promoted her appearance in two ice shows where she didn't skate, and that the promos left the impression she was a "no show" and thus damaged her reputation. The judge found that Baiul made "wild claims" she had millions of dollars in lost profits coming her way, and that there was "no credible evidence whatsoever" that she suffered any damages. She also ordered Baiul to pay NBC's legal fees of at least $35,000.

Lowered expectations

In what is becoming a dog-bites-man story, Obamacare continues to fall short of backers' promises. The Urban Institute estimates Obamacare has reduced the number of uninsured adults by 8 million. Gallup polling echoes that assessment. But Jeffrey H. Anderson, writing at The Weekly Standard's blog, notes that the total is far short of projections. As recently as February, the Congressional Budget Office projected Obamacare would reduce the number of uninsured by 13 million by 2014. In April, the CBO revised that estimate downward to just 12 million. When the law passed in 2010, the CBO estimated 19 million would gain insurance (an estimate later revised partly because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Medicaid expansion was voluntary). Given that the U.S. population totals more than 316 million, the Urban Institute's figures suggest the massive disruption created by Obamacare "benefited" just 2.5 percent of the population. Apparently, you can't lowball Obamacare estimates enough.

California state of mind

Conan O'Brien had some fun this week with a proposal to split California into six states, saying the new states would include "Botoxia" and "the Commonwealth of Kardashia." But not everyone's laughing about the initiative petition drive to place the question before voters in November. The drive is being led by Tim Draper, a wealthy venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. Naturally, Draper's resume has elicited class envy in some, including the spokesman for a group opposed to the idea. "If you have $30 million, you can put anything you want on the ballot in California," he huffed. Of course, getting something on the ballot doesn't mean it's going to be approved -- voters will have the final say. Meantime it's easier to erect straw men and bash away.

Living up to stereotype

It's impossible to find anything good to say about organizers of a "Black Mass" at Oklahoma City'sCivic Center, so here's a backhanded compliment: Their leadership lives up to stereotype. A local satanic group headed by Adam Daniels plans to host the Black Mass, which mocks the Catholic Mass. The event typically involves a nude female "altar" while the "consecrated host is corrupted by sexual fluids." (The Oklahoma City event will be changed to comply with public indecency laws.) If that sounds like something that would appeal only to perverts and weirdos, well, you're probably right. A former prison guard, Daniels is a sex offender, convicted in 2009 for a relationship with an inmate he supervised. The guy who would host a Black Mass is the same guy who used a position of authority to take advantage of an incarcerated woman.

Here's a thought

Growing use of a business tax strategy merits close attention. "Inversions" allow U.S. companies to buy foreign companies (or established holding companies in a foreign country) in order to have profits taxed at the lower rate in those foreign countries. Since the beginning of last year, 19 inversion deals have been announced. Illinois-based AbbVie Inc.'s$54 billion purchase of Dublin-based Shire is merely the latest example. Companies employing this strategy have been in several industries, including pharmaceuticals, retail, consumer and manufacturing. We note this trend because it rebuts the claim of many liberals who argue tax rates are only a minor consideration for businesses. Apparently, no one told business owners, who are obviously willing to go to great lengths to lower their tax burden. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew asked Congress this week to enact new penalites for businesses that relocate. Perhaps if the United States simply lowered its tax rate, more business activity would remain in this country -- along with the associated tax revenue.

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(c)2014 The Oklahoman

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Source: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City)


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